Job interviews are nerve-wracking but are often the most crucial part of the job application process. It’s a chance to expand upon your skills and qualifications, determine how well you’ll fit in with the company culture, and build your own understanding of the job and whether it’s a position you will enjoy.
Whether you’re a new graduate seeking a first job or returning to the job search mid-career, taking time to prepare for each interview can help you avoid common interview mistakes. Check out our list of what not to do in an interview, and tips for what to do to succeed.
- Pre-Interview Mistakes
- General Interview Mistakes
- Phone & Video Interview Mistakes
- In-Person Interview Mistakes
- Post-Interview Mistakes
- Key Takeaways: What Not to Do in an Interview
Your interview impression starts before you ever talk to someone from the company at which you are applying. It’s a good idea for job seekers to do some legwork ahead of time to prepare for their interview.
Here are some tips to help you avoid these pre-interview mistakes:
Mistake #1: Failing to Research the Company and Interviewer
Inadequately researching the company is one of the most common interview mistakes, but it’s also one of the easiest job interview mistakes to avoid. Prospective employers expect their interviewees to have a strong understanding of the job responsibilities and the company. Be sure to reread the job description just ahead of your interview so it is fresh in your mind, especially if you are interviewing at multiple places. Browse the company website to gain a clear understanding of the company’s offerings, mission statement, and values.
It can also be beneficial to research your interviewer if you are given their information. Find out their role within the company, and do a quick LinkedIn search to see if you have any mutual connections.
Mistake #2: Forgetting to Prepare Questions
As you research the company, keep a running list of questions to ask during the interview. Your questions should reference information that cannot easily be found on the company site or by simply Googling the answers. Ask questions to understand the nuance of the role or to gain deeper insight into the company culture. It’s okay to bring a list of questions with you to the interview—it can show the thought and preparedness that you put in.
Mistake #3: Not Practicing Your Answer to the Question You Dread
When you prepare for your interview, there’s likely one question that you are really hoping the interviewer doesn’t ask. Maybe you have a previous firing or long span of unemployment or are going through a career change that you’re not sure how to explain.
Instead of dreading this question, make it a point to practice exactly how you want to answer. Write out your ideal response and rehearse it to a friend or your bathroom mirror, so you don’t find yourself stuttering through your answer in the actual interview. You can also practice your answers to common interview questions to be even more polished.
General Interview Mistakes
Whether you interview in person or by phone or video, there are common interview mistakes that job candidates fall prey to across the board. If you’re wondering what not to do in an interview, this section is a great place to focus on.
We’ll cover mistakes for specific types of interviews in later sections.
Mistake #4: Being Late (or Early)
Being late might seem like an obvious interview mistake to avoid, but it can happen. Arriving late is a tough mistake to recover from—93% of hiring managers said that tardiness hurt an applicant’s chances of getting hired. Be sure to give yourself plenty of buffer time before an interview to account for unexpected traffic, construction, or getting lost.
If you arrive more than 10 minutes early, however, sit in your car or a nearby coffee shop until closer to your interview time. Arriving too early can put the interviewer in an awkward position of feeling like they need to accommodate or entertain you earlier than expected, and they may be unprepared for your sudden arrival.
If you’re calling in for a phone or video interview, try to be precisely on time. Don’t make them wait for you, but don’t disrupt their schedule by calling too early.
Mistake #5: Badmouthing Previous Employers
If you’re leaving a job because of a toxic work environment or a terrible manager, it can be tempting to launch into a full explanation of how and why your previous employer was so bad. This can raise questions or doubts in the minds of your interviewers about your judgment or character—even if those doubts are completely unwarranted.
While you want to remain as open and honest as possible, it’s important to frame your answers in the most positive light possible. For example, if your former boss was an intense micromanager, and it drove you crazy, consider framing it as looking for a job where you can have more autonomy and independence.
Mistake #6: Giving Vague or Cliche Answers
When asked cliche questions like “what is your greatest weakness?”, it can be tempting to respond with an equally cliche answer. These answers, such as saying you are a team player or a perfectionist, can make you utterly forgettable to interviewers who may be talking to many candidates in a short amount of time. Instead, you might try to make your answers personal and memorable with specific examples of projects on which you collaborated or how you ensure your reports are error-free every time.
Mistake #7: Being Exceptionally Long-Winded
Interviews are supposed to be conversations, where you have a chance to show why you’d be a great fit for the job, and also a time for interviewers to explain the ins and outs of the job and company to you. A candidate who launches into a 5-minute speech to answer a simple question may demonstrate an inability to be concise or determine what the most appropriate information is for a given situation. Talking too much may also prevent interviewers from getting through all the questions they planned to ask.
Phone & Video Interview Mistakes
Phone and video interviews are commonly used (63% of hiring managers use or have used video interviewing) as initial screening interviews ahead of an in-person interview, although for remote positions, they may comprise the entirety of the interview process. In a virtual setting, interviewers are relying entirely on verbal communications—the hard-to-pin-down factors like body language, setting, and dress play no part in building their impression of you.
Mistake #8: Interviewing in a Noisy or Unprofessional Setting
Interviewing in a noisy setting is another one of those common examples of what not to do in an interview. Background noise, or similarly, poor cell phone reception, can make it difficult or awkward for your interviewer to understand what you are saying. This is not only frustrating but could also have a negative impact on your candidacy, as interviewers may miss important pieces of information.
Ensure you are prepared for your interview by finding a quiet, calm place to speak with your potential employer. Avoid coffee shops or talking while walking down the street or riding in a car. If you’re home, ask anyone else in the house to save loud music, vacuuming, or other loud activities for after your interview time. If you have children, arrange for childcare for them to prevent any interruptions.
In a video interview, your physical background must also be professional. Test the backdrop of your webcam to make sure there are no dirty dishes, piles of laundry, or other unsightly items. A professional video interview backdrop doesn’t necessarily mean an office setting; a plain, clean room should suffice.
Mistake #9: Saying “Um” a Lot
Because phone interviewers have limited information to form an impression of you, far more weight is given to your tone and cadence of voice. Practice answers to some common questions, so you sound polished and prepared, as filler words like “um” and “uh” become more obvious over the phone. If you, like many people, hate talking on the phone, ask a friend or relative to practice with you to increase your comfort.
Mistake #10: Not Being Prepared to Talk About Salary or Availability
Phone interviews are typically initial screening conversations. Hiring managers want to identify any major incompatibilities before investing time and resources in an in-person interview. Salary and availability are two common screening questions, so think through those ahead of time to avoid sounding uncertain or wishy-washy if asked.
Answering these questions well will depend on the research you’ve done ahead of time about job requirements. You should understand if the job will be salaried or hourly, as well as what level of experience is necessary. Sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com can provide market-rate information to help determine an appropriate salary range for your work.
In-Person Interview Mistakes
For an in-person interview, you add a few new layers to your overall impression. Body language and face-to-face interactions tell an interviewer a lot about you and may form a portion of their final decision.
Mistake #11: Dressing Inappropriately
Like it or not, physical appearance plays a huge part in a first impression, which means that dressing the part is a significant factor in your interview performance. Nailing this is trickier than it once was, as professional norms and office dress codes have started to vary widely. If you’ve done your research on the company, you should have some sense of the office culture and whether you should go the classic interview suit route or if you can tone it down and be more business casual.
Mistake #12: Being Rude to the Receptionist
This may seem like a small issue, but it’s not uncommon for interviewers to ask the receptionist or assistant about your attitude or demeanor toward them. No one wants to hire a candidate who is rude to other employees, so make sure to be polite and friendly to the receptionist to start your interview off right.
The interview process doesn’t end when you walk out the door. Several key pieces post-interview often play into hiring decisions.
Mistake #13: Failing to Send a Thank You Note
After an in-person or video interview, career experts say it’s good practice to send a thank you note to your interviewers, reiterating your interest in the position and thanking them for their time. Don’t worry about sending a handwritten note by pigeon carrier or postage. An email should be just fine. In fact, 94% of HR managers say that an emailed thank you note is appropriate.
If your follow-up is a good one, it can set you apart from other candidates at the same stage of the interview process. Thank you notes should be sent within a day.
Mistake #14: Following Up Too Aggressively
Once you’ve sent your thank you note, it’s best to wait for the company to contact you first—whether that’s with a request for references or news that they’ve selected a different candidate. At most, you can check in with the hiring manager 2-3 business days after the decision deadline has passed. There is plenty of career advice telling job seekers to follow up daily or every other day, but this can make employers think of you as pushy, annoying, and out of touch with business etiquette. Hiring takes a long time and there are often unforeseen delays, so give the company the benefit of the doubt and don’t pester them.
Mistake #15: Responding Slowly to Post-Interview Requests
Interviewers may reach out a few days post-interview to clarify something about your candidacy or ask for references or work samples. Respond to these inquiries promptly to help the hiring manager make a decision quickly—if they don’t hear from you quickly; it’s possible they could.
Key Takeaways: What Not to Do in an Interview
Although interviewing for jobs is stressful, a little bit of research and preparation can go a long way in creating a great impression for your interviewers and showing your strengths as a candidate. Use these guidelines to help you learn what not to do in an interview and approach your interview process with care and forethought. Good luck!